When we’re working out, there are usually several things that we’re thinking about. Do I have the proper form? Am I doing this exercise properly? Are people staring at me? But while running doesn’t usually seem that complicated, it turns out we might be making some mistakes.
Most runners aren’t thinking about their diaphragm whilst taking their daily run, which might put them at a disadvantage according to Kristen Konkol, an associate teaching professor of exercise science at Syracuse University.
If runners aren’t using their diaphragms effectively during exercise, they reduce how deeply they can inhale. This then limits the amount of oxygen that is absorbed and sent to their muscles. This essentially affects how well those muscles work when you’re exercising, Nicole Hagobian, a running coach and professor of kinesiology at California Polytechnic State University has said.
So what is the diaphragm and how can it help us make the most of our workouts?
The diaphragm is located just under the lungs and it looks like an upside-down ‘U’. When you inhale it contracts and flattens. It plays an important role in breathing but also has other functions, including urination and bowel movements, and helping the lymphatic system maintain lymph flow through the body.
Many people don’t use their diaphragms to their fullest potential, which in turn causes them to over-rely on other muscles, according to Dr. Tianshi David Wu, an assistant professor of pulmonology at the Baylor College of Medicine.
He adds that when this happens, people don’t get enough deep air into their lungs, which reduces how much oxygen they can absorb.
But, you can use diaphragmatic breathing to work to ensure that you’re getting enough deep air into your lungs. This requires you to deliberately use your diaphragm to take deep breaths by inhaling in your stomach rather than your chest.
One way you can practice this is by lying on your back with your hands on your stomach and taking deep breathing in through your nose to intentionally try to get the air into your belly. Whilst you do this, the hands-on your stomach should rise. And, when you exhale your hands should retreat.
If you want to make this type of breathing a standard practice you should try practicing this technique for 15-20 minutes every day, Konkol says.
Currently, there are only a few small studies that focus on how diaphragmatic breathing affects exercise. One study published in 2018, found that those with fatigued diaphragms could not exercise as intensely as usual.